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The Production of Unpleasurable Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Ārya Kṣemīśvara

Author(s): Adheesh Sathaye

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 130, No. 3 (July-September 2010),
pp. 361-384
Published by: American Oriental Society
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23044957
Accessed: 04-12-2018 08:40 UTC

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The Production of Unpleasurable Rasas
in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemlsvara
Adheesh Sathaye
University of British Columbia

Writing at the Kannauj court sometime around 915 C.E., the dramatist Arya Ksem
would have found himself at a remarkable moment in the history of Sanskrit litera
a time of great innovation in literary theory, not least of which was a "paradigm s
alamkara (figuration) to rasa (emotional flavor) as the fundamental unit of poetic
This was part of a larger unification of poetics (alamkdra-sastra) with dramaturg
sastra)—long-independent intellectual pursuits that would be definitively brought
umbrella a little more than a century after Ksemlsvara's time. At the very heart
changes lay Anandavardhana's (c. 850) proposal of a new type of significatio
tion (dhvani)—which, unlike denotation (abhidha) or indication (laksana), was not
able feature of the poetic text, but a phenomenon involving the sensibilities of th
Anandavardhana's Dhvanyaloka proved to be a landmark text, forcing practical
theorist after him to confront what we, following Roland Barthes, might call the
nature of rasa. In SIZ (1970) Barthes approached the question of textual interpret
describing the "writerly" (scriptible) text as one in which the reader must act as
"writer" in order to produce meaning. He distinguished this from the traditiona
the static, "readerly" (lisible) text, in which the reader may only be a passive rec
meaning prefigured by the original (and authoritative) author. In the French intel
political context of the 1960s and 70s, the writerly text represented for Barthes
newly "poststructural" theorists the means through which literature might achiev
cipatory goal, "to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the tex
1974: 4).2
In the middle of the ninth century Anandavardhana produced an equally liberative moment
for Sanskrit poetics, opening up the field to a new, overarching goal: the experience of rasa
(McCrea 2008). Rasa, of course, was nothing new; before the advent of dhvani, however,
most critics regarded it to be an intrinsic feature of a poem or play to be appreciated during
performance. Thus, for Lollata (early ninth century), this aesthetic flavor (rasa) was an aug
mented or enhanced stable emotion (sthayibhava) of a character and shared by the actor play
ing the part; for Sankuka (late ninth century), rasa was also located in the character but only
imitated by the actor (Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 36-37; Kane 1971: 370-71). Intrinsic to
these models was the proposition that rasa, like any other figure, belonged to the "readerly"
text and not to the spectator, who only consumed it. Anandavardhana's approach, in contrast,

1. For discussions on the unification of Sanskrit poetics and dramaturgy, see Tubb 1998: 58; Gerow 1977: 256;
McCrea 2008: 44-45. For analyses of the novelty of Anandavardhana's dhvani concept, see McCrea 2008: 162-63;
Pollock 2001: 200; Gerow 1977: 252-53.
2. Barthes's concept of readerly vs. writerly texts grows from his study of the "Death of the Author" (1977
[1968]), in which he had first attempted to loosen the authoritative grip of the author (now simply seen as a "scrip
tor") on textual meaning; it would culminate in his Pleasure of the Text (1975 [1973]), in which he proposed that
writerly texts generate a different, more ecstatic kind of enjoyment (jouissance) than the pleasure (plaisir) of read
erly texts.

Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010) 361

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

treated rasa as an affective response of the connoisseur (sahrdaya), generated through the
suggestive power (dhvani) of a literary text (Pollock 1998: 124-25). Accordingly, the rasa
experience required an active, "writerly" participation on the part of sahrdayas, who were
to be "perceptive of the underlying principles of the aims of poetry" (kavyarthatattvajila)
(Dhvanyaloka 1.7).
This writerly concept of rasa-dhvani allowed later Kashmiri theoreticians to challenge some
basic assumptions about aesthetics. Using Mimamsa concepts, Bhatta Nayaka (tenth century)
solidly rejected both Lollata's and Sarikuka's models of rasa production, arguing instead for
the existence of an underlying process of bhavana ('production') located in the mind of the
spectator and through which rasa is experienced (Pollock 2010: 154-55). Abhinavagupta
(c. 1000) further specified rasa to be a clarification of a spectator's own latent emotional
propensities, resulting in a momentary manifestation of an inner brahmasvada—the tasting
of ultimate bliss (Gerow 1977: 267-68). To be precise, he suggested that "the enjoyment
of rasa was a semblance of only a particle of that bliss" (tadanandaviprunmatravabhaso hi
rasasvadah) (Locana commentary to Dhvanyaloka 3.43). Literary experience thereby pro
duced an epiphany, a "magical break in the web of relationships of which everyday life,
Samsara is woven" (Gnoli 1970: 79). This focus on bhavana or brahmasvada became the
basis for what Pollock has described as a "new mentality," in which "literature for the first
time came to be seen as a model or even kind of religious experience" (Pollock 2001: 198).
It is thus hard to dispute Anandavardhana's impact upon literary theory at the end of
the first millennium; but how did it affect literary practice? That is, to what extent did the
"dhvani revolution" of this Kashmiri critic really change the working methods of those San
skrit poets and playwrights, like Ksemis'vara, who lived in and wrote for elite courtly com
munities across the subcontinent? How did they reconcile the writerly concept of dhvani,
not to mention the new focus on rasa as the ultimate goal of poetic expression, with their
professional interests in the older, readerly notions of alamkara (figure), guna (quality), and
riti (style)? And how did Sanskrit theater, in which rasa had always been of primary interest,
react to this growing fusion of dramaturgical and poetic theory?
This essay hopes to investigate these questions through a study of specific writerly
moments within Arya Ksemls'vara's two extant theatrical works: the Candakausika ("Fierce
Kaus'ika"), an adaptation of the legend of Hariscandra from the Markandeya Purana (7-8),
and the Naisadhananda ("The Bliss of the Nisadha King"), a version of the Mahabharata 's
Nala story (3.50-78).3 In the first play Ksemlsvara explores the pleasurability of horror
(,bibhatsa) and terror (bhayanaka) through a rather ghastly description of the VaranasI cem
etery. In the second play the protagonist Nala (in disguise as a driver named Bahuka) joins
the king of Ayodhya in watching a play-within-a-play (garbhanka) depicting Damayantl's
suffering while separated from her husband in the forest. Here, the aesthetized experience of
misery (karuna) comes with a slight twist. Rasa, Ksemlsvara explains, is not simply a product
of the author's genius, nor is it entirely the spectator's affective response; rather, an unmedi
ated experience of rasa requires what he calls a "transparent" performance (sphutabhinaya).
The evidence will suggest that Ksemls'vara, writing on the cusp of the dhvani revolution,
sought a median position between "readerly" and "writerly" models of rasa production by
highlighting what we might call the "performerly" nature of this process.

3. Das Gupta prepared a critical edition using thirteen manuscripts of the Candakausika in 1962, while 1986
saw the publication of Warder and Kunjunni Raja's comparative edition of the two extant manuscripts of the
Naisadhananda. All references to these two plays (respectively abbreviated CK and NA) will be to these editions;
all translations, unless otherwise noted, are my own.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 363

Ksemlsvara's views are best understood within his immediate historical context. He dedi
cates both plays to "Mahlpaladeva," and, according to the prevailing scholarly opinion, this
would have been the Gurjara-Pratlhara king Mahlpala I, who ruled from Kannauj beginning
sometime around 912 c.e. Kannauj at this time was a coveted prize for three regional powers
locked in perennial conflict—the Rastrakutas in the south, the Pratlharas in the west, and the
Palas in the east. The Arab writers Sulaiman al-Tajir (851) and al-Mas'udl (944) found the
city to be an epicenter of military and economic activity, and from the accounts of Xuanzang
(seventh century) and other Chinese travellers we learn of its importance for Buddhist learn
ing and practice. Furthermore, for at least three centuries, the Kannauj court had been home
to some of history's most celebrated Sanskrit poets: Bana, Harsa, Mayura, and, in all prob
ability, Bhavabhuti. Kannauj thus would have been a key hub in the "Sanskrit Cosmopolis"
(Pollock 1996), and Ksemlsvara's date makes him a junior colleague, successor, or perhaps
even student of one of its most prominent architects, Rajasekhara Yayavariya.4
It is difficult to overstate Rajas'ekhara's stature in Sanskrit literary history. Few poets were
cited by medieval anthologists and critics as often as Rajas'ekhara, and he seemed to have
gained quite a level of celebrity even in his own time. He called himself a "king of poets"
(kaviraja) (Karpuramafijari 1.9) and, with more audacity, the reincarnation of Valmlki,
Bhartrmentha, and Bhavabhuti (Balaramayana 1.16). His prolific writings offer a rich and
whimsical snapshot of courtly life in Kannauj at the turn of the tenth century, a cosmopolitan
and "transregional" mosaic of regional languages, fashions, and material pleasures (Pollock
2006: 200-204). His Kavyamimamsa remains one of the earliest available discussions of
Sanskrit poetry as a profession, providing valuable details about the practical side of the art
(Shulman 2008: 483-84). Aware of Anandavardhana but seemingly unaffected by his new
theories, Rajasekhara's writings present a grand, pre-dhvani vision of Sanskrit kavya.5
Ksemlsvara's plays never explicitly mention Rajasekhara, but he would undoubtedly have
felt the influence of his senior colleague. His use of puranic references to Visvamitra's exploits
in the Candakausika, for example, is reminiscent of Rajasekhara's portrayal of the sage in
the Balaramayana.6 His lavish use of Prakrit in both plays likewise points towards one of
the most striking qualities of Rajasekhara's writings (Konow 1901: 199-204). Even his near
plagiaristic imitation of Bhavabhuti might have been emboldened by the Kavyamlmamsa 's
lengthy treatment of intellectual theft (sabda- and arthaharana). But here is really where the
influences end, for even if he were a colleague, student, or replacement for Rajasekhara in
Mahlpala's court, Ksemlsvara infuses his dramas with a certain gravitas barely present in
Rajasekhara's light-hearted works.

4. Das Gupta and Warder both discuss in detail the controversies surrounding Ksemisvara's date and provenance
(Das Gupta in her CK edition, p. li; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 535). For further discussion of the rise of Kannauj
as an early medieval imperial power, see Tripathi 1964: 255-91; Majumdar 1964: 19-43. Lucid accounts of the
conflicts between Mahipala and his neighbors—especially Indra III of the Rastrakutas to the south—are found in
Tripathi 1964: 259-62; Mitra 1958: 34-35; Majumdar 1964: 35-36; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 534-35. Mirashi's
study (1975: 21-23) of the temple name Kalapriyanatha points towards placing Bhavabhuti in Kannauj.
5. For analyses of RajaSekhara's Kavyamimamsa, see Chattopadhyaya 1994; Dalai and Shastry in their edition of
the Kavyamimamsa, pp. xxxiv-xlv; Kulkarni 1993; Parashar 2000; Venkateswaran 1970; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5;
414-16. Not only does Rajasekhara quote Anandavardhana in the Kavyamimamsa (p. 17), he applauds the Kashmiri
critic in the following independent verse.' "By his extremely deep dhvani, piercing the core of kavya, whose delight
(ananda) has Anandavardhana not increased?" (dhvaninatigabhlrena kavyatattvanivesina I anandavardhanah kasya
nasid anandavardhanah) (Suktimuktavall 4.78).
6. Compare, for example, CK 2.18-25 and Balaramayana 3.3-7; ad 3.16. Visvamitra's portrayal in Bhavabhuti's
Mahaviracarita (ad 1.10) was perhaps an influence on both.

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Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

I will more rigorously explore this difference by comparing how each poet approached
the question of the so-called "unpleasurable" rasas. Beginning with Bharata's Natyasastra
dramaturgists posited the existence of (at least) eight major rasas corresponding to eight
sthayibhavas or stable emotional states, which became classified as either "pleasant" or
"unpleasant" (Kulkarni 1995: 281; Nagendra 1970a: 118). Sensuality {rati), laughter (hasa),
excitement (utsaha), and wonder (vismaya) were the pleasant bhavas, while grief (soka),
anger (krodha), fear (bhaya), and disgust (jugupsa) were unpleasant. Less clear, however,
was the pleasurability of the corresponding rasas, a topic that gained importance especially
after Anandavardhana tied the appreciation of poetry to the appreciation of rasa. For if the
literary experience must ultimately be pleasurable, but also emotional, then what is the plea
sure in experiencing unpleasant emotions?
On the broadest level, pleasurability was seldom a matter of serious dispute within an
intellectual field, rooted in the kamasastra (Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 15), that regarded
theater as "producing courage, amusement, and joy, even while giving rise to moral lessons"
(hitopadesajananam dhrtikridasukhadikrt) (Natyasastra 1.113cd). Bhoja (eleventh century)
perhaps carried this ideal to its extreme in proposing that all rasas are manifestations of a
deeper emotional potential, a "higher-order Passion [srngara]" that "enables a person to
experience the world richly," and therefore "may be taken as the origin of all other affective
states, or rasas" (Pollock 1998: 126; see also Raghavan 1963: 463). This pleasurability was
perhaps also what led dramaturgists to suggest that only certain rasas ought to be dominant
within a play. According to Dhananjaya (late tenth century), for example, "Only one rasa is
to be predominant—either vlra or srngara—while all the other rasas should be subordinated,
and at its closing one should evoke adbhuta" (eko raso 'ngl kartavyo virah srngara eva va 11
ahgam anye rasah sarve kuryan nirvahane 'dbhutam) (Dasariipaka 3.33cd-4ab).
However, because it advocated rasa as the "single, overriding goal" of poetry (McCrea
2008: 25), and because the burden of rasa production was now on the "writerly" specta
tor, Anandavardhana's rasa-dhvani theory raised some new questions about this pleasur
ability. After all, too many painful feelings in a play could conceivably lead one to have an
overall unpleasant experience. Still, for most post-dhvani Kashmiri critics (Abhinavagupta,
Mammata, etc.), the "otherworldly" (alaukika) nature of rasas guaranteed a transcendent
pleasure, no matter what their specific emotional value. Even for those who admitted that
rasas produce both pleasure and pain (sukhaduhkhatmaka), the unpleasurable rasas served
either a satirical function (Gitomer 2000: 221; Monius 2004: 132) or were carefully subordi
nated to pleasurable ones (Kulkarni 1995: 283-84; Tubb and Bronner 2008: 625). As we will
see, Ksemlsvara appears to have been especially absorbed by this issue.
Ksemisvara's interest in the unpleasurable rasas ultimately results in a portfolio that
invites comparison not to his senior colleague, but, as Indologists have long noted, to
Bhavabhuti, a poet also thought to have lived in Kannauj perhaps 150 years before his time.7
Like Bhavabhuti, our playwright uses theater to probe the depths of the human condition in
ways that Rajas'ekhara does not; and, like Bhavabhuti's, his plays at times appear provoca
tive, at least to our modern sensibilities, highlighting the real human anxieties that lie beneath
the facade of a detached "curious interest" with which spectators are ordinarly expected to
take in unpleasant scenes on the Sanskrit stage.8 Ksemls'vara's relationship to Bhavabhuti

7. The editors of both plays provide compelling discussions of Ksemlsvara's textual sources and influences,
including Bhavabhuti (Warder and Kunjunni Raja, NA, pp. xxxvii-xl; Das Gupta, CK, pp. lxxxxiv-lxxxxvi).
8. Studies by Goldman (1986: 360), Shulman (2001: 50), and Pollock (2007: 38-44) have done much to shed
light upon the provocative nature of Bhavabhuti's works.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 365

is a topic worthy of a separate comparative study; in this essay, however, the best we may
do is to point out these parallels as they appear in the production of unpleasurable rasas in
Ksemisvara's two plays.


The Candakausika is an adaptation of the Markandeya Purana version of the Haris

legend, featuring a number of innovations that serve to produce all eight classical
Act I, a pure invention, develops the srngara and hasya rasas (passion and comedy),
lovelorn Hariscandra, strolling in the palace gardens with his Brahman jester (vidus
spies upon his wife, who, ironically, also pines for his affections. Act II produces t
and raudra rasas (heroism and fury), as Hariscandra bravely hunts after a vicious b
the forest, but accidentally disturbs Visvamitra's austerities and rouses the sage's ang
king offers his entire kingdom to appease him, but Visvamitra demands a daksina, a g
over and above this gift. Act III finds our hero trying to earn this money in the Varan
market, first by selling his wife and son to an elderly Brahman teacher, and then him
the Candala master of the burning grounds. Act IV, which we will examine more c
features the blbhatsa and bhayanaka rasas (horror and terror), as Hariscandra surve
grisly surroundings of his new place of work. The final act initially delivers karuna
at the death of Hariscandra's son Rohitasva and the tearful reunion of husband and wife at
the cemetery, but it ends with ascarya (wonder), when suddenly there is a miracle: Lord
Dharma enters the stage with a shower of flowers and restores the dead child to life.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ksemlsvara's adaptation is how he maximizes the
horror and terror of the cremation grounds in Act IV.10 We will first examine how Ksemlsvara
produces these rasas—that is, the formal and stylistic features of his poetry—before turning
to the question of how he might have wanted his audience to appreciate them. As we will
see, Ksemlsvara's production of the unpleasurable rasas highlights a central problem within
Sanskrit aesthetics (Tubb 1991): is the spectator really expected to feel what the protagonist
is feeling?
Throughout his writings Ksemlsvara tends to be quite explicit about his protagonist's
feelings, either through stage directions (to the actor) or verbal declarations (to the specta
tor). For example, it is in a state of shock (savastambham) that Haris'candra gives his first
impression of what is to become his new home (CK 4.7):

vidurad abhyastair viyati bahuso mandalasatair

udancatpucchagrastimitavitataih paksatiputaih I
patanty ete grdhrah savapisitalolananaguha
galallalakledasthagitanijacancubhayaputah 11

With envelopes of wings, steady and spread out, and with their tails upraised.
They congregate from far and wide, forming hundreds of circles in the sky—
So fly the vultures, the slivers of space between their beaks covered by the juice of saliva
Dripping from the cavities of their mouths that yearn for the flesh of corpses.

9. For evidence that the Candakausika is adapted from the Markandeya (and not the Devibhagavata) Purana,
see Das Gupta 1953: 266-72.
10. This is the only act in the play that is given a title ("Smasanacaritaor "The Account of the Cremation
Grounds"), indicating both its centrality in the plot and the degree of reknown it may have achieved among later
readers (Warder, 1972-2004, vol. 5: 552).

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366 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

The long compounds of this verse stretch across its metrical caesuras and lend an almost
cinematic quality to Ksemlsvara's poem: first a long panoramic shot of the slow, ominous
movements of circling vultures, and then a focalization on the abhorrent sight of saliva drip
ping from their beaks. Gitomer, using Bakhtin, explains that this kind of imagery often
produces a "literary grotesque" that takes on a satirical relationship to the erotic "canonical
body" of Sanskrit literature that is otherwise "perfect, smooth, hermetic" (Gitomer 1991: 95).
In this regard, our dramatist was likely influenced by equally gruesome visions of the burn
ing grounds in Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava (e.g., 5.18), Subandhu's Vasavadatta (242-43),
or perhaps even the disgusting behavior of raksasas in the Sanskrit epics (Goldman 2000).
However, Das Gupta in her edition (p. lxxxi) maintains that Ksemlsvara's "own theme sug
gested the situation, and his picture is not weakly imitative." Regardless of possible influ
ences there can be no doubt that Ksemlsvara's poems left their own mark, for the medieval
anthologist Vidyakara was sufficiently impressed to include this verse, along with two others
(CK 4.19, 21), in the section of his Subhasitaratnakosa treating cremation grounds (Section
44, verses 1537-39; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 547-48).11 This verse is, furthermore, just
the tip of the iceberg—Ksemlsvara gives a series of a dozen more graphic verses of death
and gore, augmenting the sentiment of bibhatsa to a level rarely witnessed in Sanskrit drama.
Consider, for example, what Hariscandra next sees as he gets closer to the cemetery
(CK 4.8):

ima murchanty antahpratiravabhrtah karnakatavah

sivah krurakrandair asivapatahadambararavah I
jvalanty ete tapasphutitanrkarotiputadari
lasanmastiskakta stimitajatilagra hutabhujah 11

The jackals over here are deafening, echoing through the place;
Bitter to the ear with their harsh cries,
they roar with a great noise like the ominous pataha drums.
Over there blaze the hungry fires, their steady and tangled tips fueled
By the brains oozing from cracks in the human skulls exploding from the heat.

Again, Ksemlsvara's primary objective seems to be to paint as poetically vivid an image

as possible. In what appears to be a typical strategy of what Warder calls the "bold" style of
kavya (Warder 1972—2004, vol. 5: vii—viii), the verse offers an explosion of horrific imag
ery—here, quite literally so—leaving little for the audience to decipher. In fact, Ksemlsvara
frequently prefaces his verses with a precise declaration of the intended rasa. In this case,
prior to reciting the poem, Hariscandra exclaims a ho bibhatsaraudrata mahasmasanasya
"Oh the horror and fury of this great cemetery!"—thus announcing its emotional blend: the
harsh cries of the jackals generate raudra, while the oozing brains result in blbhatsa.
Besides another long compound and the wordplay between the jackals (sivah) and their
ominous (asiva) cries, this verse also features an alliteration (anuprasa) of unvoiced retro
flex and labial stops, mimicking the sound of skulls cracking in the fire ("tapa-sphutita-nr
karotl-puta-darl-"). Anuprasa is a technique that Ksemls'vara will again use in describing an
unpleasant tree (CK 4.17):

a skandhad utpatantah prthukuharagrhadvari kujanty uliika

dhunvantah paksapalih prabalakilakila murdhni grdhrah patanti I

11. Our playwright is also cited three times by Sridharadasa (c. 1205) in his Saduktikarnamrta (CK 1.3, 3.20;
NA 1.1), and once by Vi^vanatha (fourteenth century) in his Sahityadarpana (CK 3.30); see Das Gupta's edition of
CK, p. xlv.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 367

s'akhagralambisiryatkunapaghanavasagandham aghraya raudram

krandantah spharayanti sphuradanalamukhah pheravah phetkrtani 11

The owls are hooting, flying out from the bowers,

through the wide hollows that are the front doors of their homes.
In the higher reaches the vultures fly,
making a loud racket as they shake the edges of their wings.
Smelling the thick fat from the decaying corpses hanging from the ends of the branches,
The jackals, howling ferociously, spit out shrieks, with burning fire in their mouths.

The repetition of harsh-sounding aspirated labials in the fourth line, spharayanti

sphuradanalamukhah pheravah phetkrtani, produces an aural enhancement of the disgusting
image. Das Gupta observes that in the Candakausika "alliteration and sound-repetition . . .
are to be naturally found, very often with a pleasing effect," but she assigns them no special
significance, suggesting that "on the whole, Ksemlsvara does not appear specially inclined
to any rhetorical display" (CK, p. lxxxxii). On the contrary, I would argue that Ksemls'vara's
alliteration, like his use of long compounds, indicates his use of the gaudiya riti, the poetic
style characterized by an "abundance of compounds, alliteration and display of recondite
language, even at the expense of the other qualities such as clarity" (Warder 1972-2004, vol.
1: 93). A century prior to Ksemlsvara, the poetician Vamana described the gaudiya style
as being "composed of strength and beauty" (ojahkantimati) (Kavyalamkarasutra 1.2.12),
in which ojas, as a sonic quality (sabdaguna), was a kind of verbal density or "thickness"
(gadhabandhatva) (3.1.5), while as a thematic quality (arthaguna) it involved a boldness or
maturity (praudhi) of imagery (3.2.2). Mammata (twelfth century) and others explained that
this ojas made gaudiya riti particularly suited for producing bibhatsa, raudra, and vira rasas
(e.g., Kavyaprakasa 8.69-70 [pp. 475-76]), thus offering a more persuasive, aesthetic basis
for Ksemlsvara's use of long compounds and alliteration in these macabre verses.
Our playwright is again quite frank about the intended aesthetic value of this poem. First,
before reciting the verse, Hariscandra signals the bhaydnaka rasa: "Oh, my! the trees in the
cemetery have suddenly become quite grave and frightening!" (aho atigambhlrabhisanah
samprati vartante smasanasakhinah). Next, within the verse itself, there is the mention of the
jackals' raudra howling. These two sentiments are further complemented by the abhorrent
images of vultures and dripping fat, resulting in a curious blend of bhayanaka, raudra, and
blbhatsa rasas. Again with a nod to Bhavabhuti, many of Ksemlsvara's verses in this series
involve alchemical mixtures of blbhatsa with other rasas—sometimes, as we will see, even
"pleasurable" ones like s'rngara or hasya.
We are thus able to see how Ksemlsvara produces unpleasant imagery, but why might
he have been drawn towards it in the first place? The Markandeya Purana, to be fair, is
itself quite graphic in describing the cemetery as a brutal backdrop for Hariscandra's ethical
struggle to maintain moral truth (satya) in the midst of great suffering. Ksemlsvara's extrava
gant poetry, on the other hand, is clearly designed for maximizing his audience's experience
of horror and terror, and not for delivering any particular soteriological message. One won
ders, however, whether this interest is enough to explain a glaring absence in Ksemlsvara's
adaptation: Hariscandra's convoluted dream while sleeping in the burning grounds, in which
he must endure a long series of hells, and through which is revealed his truthful character
(Sathaye 2009: 142-43; Doniger O'Flaherty 1985: 143-46).
The dream is bizarre, to be sure, but Ksemlsvara is elsewhere quite interested in
Hariscandra's satya, inventing an entire scene later in Act IV expressly to highlight this very
theme. While keeping watch in the cemetery, Hariscandra assists a tantric ascetic (who is in
reality Lord Dharma in disguise) in acquiring a certain magic power hidden in its environs. In

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368 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

gratitude the Kapalika offers him a treasure that will free him from bondage, but Hariscandra
steadfastly refuses, suggesting that the reward be given instead to his Candala master.12
We are thus provided with an example of how, in the words of the Kapalika, "the steady
mind of the wise does not waver even under duress" (krcchre 'pi na calaty eva dhlranam
niscalam manah) (CK 4.35cd). This point is not terribly different from what we find in the
Markandeya, where, at the greatest depth of his nightmare, Yama urges perseverence: "Go
back to the human world and endure the rest of your suffering. Once it has passed, King, then
you will have good fortune" (gaccha tvam manusam lokam duhkhasesah ca bhunksva vai I
gatasya tatra rajendra sreyas tava bhavisyati) (Markandeya Purana 8.161).
Ksemlsvara's elision of Hariscandra's nightmare was, I believe, an aesthetic decision. It
was crucial that his protagonist remain detached throughout this horrific scene, while in the
dream, he actually watches himself suffer. As we will see, Ksemlsvara reserves Hariscandra's
suffering for the final, climactic Act V, in which the king, overwhelmed by his wife's anguish
and the death of his only son, is driven to the point of attempting suicide.13 In Act IV, howev
er, Hariscandra does not himself suffer but only reports, poetically, the suffering of unnamed
others in the cemetery.14 As a result, he is able to serve as a model spectator for consuming
the "unpleasurable" emotional content of literature.
Hariscandra takes in the abhorrent sights around him with a feeling that Ksemlsvara iden
tifies as "curious interest" (kutuhala or kautuka). Consider Hariscandra's reactions when he
witnesses an orgy of blood-drinking pisacas in the following verse (CK 4.19):

pibaty eko 'nyasmat ghanarudhiram acchidya casakam

jvalajjihvo vaktrad galitam aparo ledhi pibatah I
tatah styanan kascid bhuvi nipatitan sonitakanan
ksanad uccairgrlvo rasayati lasaddlrgharasanah II

One snatches away a cup of thick blood from another, and drinks from it.
As he drinks, another, with a burning tongue, is licking at whatever dribbles from his mouth.
Then, someone else, craning his neck and stretching out his long tongue,
Quickly slurps up the splattered drops of blood fallen on the ground.

Though the scene is quite obviously revolting, Haris'candra only looks on it "with inter
est" (sakautukam) and declares "Oh what skill these ghouls have in play-fighting!" (aho
krldakalahakausalam pisacanam). After reciting the verse, he beholds another remarkable
image with a smile (sakautukam avalokya sasmitam). "Oh, my word! It's like a joke on those
of uncultivated taste, for even the love-play of these monsters quickly turns into a different
rasa altogether!" (aho nu khalu bhoh! parihasa iva durvidagdhanam kelir api rasantaram
alambate yatudhananam) (CK ad 4.20). He explains further (CK 4.20):
kva ramyah sambhogo mrdumadhuracestahgasubhagah
kataksah kvanyonyam pralayavitatolkadyutibhrtah I

12. In a historical study of tantrism, David Gordon White has, it seems, misread this passage, stating that
Hariscandra does accept the Kapalika's gift, "which he may now use to pay off his debts to the irascible sage
Visvamitra" (White 1996: 305; see also White 1991: 259 n. 71). Here is Hariscandra's response to the Kapalika's
offer (CK ad 4.33): "How could it be so, since they say that the life of a slave should be penniless?" (katham evam
bhavisyati I yato 'dhanam dasabhavam manyante). "But it is also not right to reject it, and so I accept your offer—on
behalf of my Master" (svamyarthatas tu nedam pratyakhyanam arhatlty anumata evayam bhavatah samkalpah).
"So let this great buried treasure be granted to my Master" (tat prapyatam svamino nibhrtam idam mahanidhanam).
13. One should note also that Hariscandra suffers in Act III of the Candakausika, in which he is forced to sell
his family and then himself into bondage.
14.1 thank the anonymous reviewers for this and other important observations in the revision of this essay.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 369

kva damstrasahghattajvalitadahanas cumbitavidhir

ghanaslesah kvayam pratirasad urahpanjararavah 11

How can you compare delightful lovemaking, with its gentle and sweet acts of physical pleasure,
To their leering glances, blazing at one another like an apocalyptic hail of fireballs?
Or to their form of kissing, a fire kindled by teeth grinding together?
Or to their tight embraces, with the crackling of their ribcages echoing inside their chests?

This humorous verse sets up an incongruity between the inherently abhorrent cemetery
dwellers and the sensual feelings that would typically be signalled by sidelong glances, kiss
es, and embraces. These features of their love-play (keli) cannot be erotic but only disgusting
in this context, and only those of uncultivated tastes—durvidagdhas—would be fooled into
thinking it to be a srngara experience. As Gitomer has noted, this is a common tactic in San
skrit drama, transforming a potentially disgusting experience into a delightfully comic one
(Gitomer 1991: 90), while also raising a social argument: to be cultivated (vidagdha) means
being able to discriminate between true rasa and its false semblance (rasabhasa).
If it is the case that durvidagdhas, because they read poetic imagery superficially, are
easily tricked by rasabhasa, then how should a vidagdha read these complex scenes of hor
ror and terror? The standard dramaturgical opinion was that audiences react directly to what
they see. According to Bharata, for example, "Spectators who feel joy when there is joy, and
who feel sorrow when there is sorrow, are known to become depressed when it's a depress
ing play" (dainye dlnatvam ayanti te natye preksakah smrtah I ye tustau tustim ayanti soke
sokam vrajanti ca) (Natyasastra 27.42). And, as noted above, Lollata and Sankuka offered
similar models to explain rasa production. Ksemisvara's own view of the issue becomes
apparent when Hariscandra sees the following scene (CK 4.21):

citagner akrstam nalakasikharaprotam asakrt

sphuradbhir nirvapya pralayapavanaih phutkrtasataih I
s'iro naram pretah kavalayati trsnavasalalat
karalasyah plusyadvadanakuharas tudgirati ca 11

Pulling it out of the funeral pyre, repeatedly puncturing its top with a leg bone,
Then cooling it off with a hundred blows of his throbbing, Doomsday wind—
The ghoul swallows up a human head, his gaping maw lolling with the force of his thirst,
Only to vomit it back out as it scorches the inside of his mouth.

One is hard pressed to find a more gruesome scene in Sanskrit theater. In fact, Hariscandra
does initially feel revulsion (saghrnam avalokya) and cries out: "Damn, this is too disgust
ing!" (dhik, atibibhatsam etat). But after reciting the verse, Hariscandra regains his com
posure and declares alam amlsam darsanakutuhalita "enough of this [idle] curiosity of
gazing at these things!" He then begins his appointed duty of guarding the burning grounds.
Hariscandra has been momentarily affected by the repugnant scene, but the dominant senti
ment here is not one of actual horror, as might be expected from older aesthetic theories.
It is also not exactly the comic hasya, which Gitomer suggests "shares sort of a perme
able membrane" with horror (Gitomer 2000: 221; discussed more fully in Gitomer 1991:
84-87). Indeed, Hariscandra's ultimate reaction here is not an emotional response at all, but
kutuhala—curious interest.

A general pattern thus appears in Hariscandra's experience of bibhatsa: first, a feeling

of disgust or shock, then an exposition of the unpleasurable imagery of the verse itself,
and finally a state of kutuhala. Rasas—both "pleasurable" and "unpleasurable"—are ele
ments found in Ksemls'vara's poems; but like Haris'candra the sophisticated spectator ought

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370 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

to remain emotionally unaffected by what he observes and take in the scene with only curi
ous interest. Ksemisvara thus takes a median position between pre-dhvani and post-dhvani
theories of rasa production. He continues to treat rasa as a fixed feature of the readerly text,
but also requires the spectator to maintain a writerly responsibility to appreciate the intended
rasa (that is, to avoid rasabhasa) and not let unpleasurable imagery actually "get to him."
Ironically, unpleasurable imagery will "get to" Hariscandra in the very next act. Hard
at work, Hariscandra spies upon a woman in the burning grounds desperately looking for
the body of her dead son. He does not recognize her, but she is, in fact, his wife Saivya. In
a remarkable depiction of death onstage, she finds the boy's corpse, and begins in vain to
inspect the body for signs of life.15 Hariscandra is initially sympathetic to the painful laments
of this woman who has also been abandoned by her husband (CK ad 5.8), but when her
descriptions of the boy sound much like his son, Rohitasva, he grows increasingly worried.
Finally, when Saivya cries out "Lord Kausika, you've finally succeeded!" (bhaavam kosia
kidattho danim si) (CK ad 5.9), there can be no further doubt, and Hariscandra realizes what
has happened.
Far from feeling merely curious, Hariscandra now succumbs to a flood of utter sorrow.
Filled with misery (sakarunam), he laments for his wife, whose "beauty is now sullied like
an old painting, and recognized only through outlines" (kantih saiva puranacitramalina
lekhabhir unnlyate) (CK 5.9d). He faints and then regains consciousness, only to be driven
deeper into despair by memories of his son (CK 5.11):

nestam na dattam na kulocitani

sukhany avaptani yaso na klrnam I

nyagrodhabijankuram usarastham
vidambayan vatsa divam gato 'si 11

You did not sacrifice, you did not give;

You did not enjoy the pleasures of high family, and you did not have great fame.
Acting like a banyan sapling in saline soil,
Dear child, you have gone off to heaven.

The contrast could not be more stark between this evocation of karuna and the earlier
scenes of blbhatsa and raudra rasas. There is no mention of kautuka or kutuhala here, and
Hariscandra can no longer gaze passively at the unpleasurable—this time the suffering is
real, it is debilitating, and it is his own. He declares "There are no tortures in all the hells that
compare to the sorrow born from the suffering of one's own child" (naitesu santi narakesv
api yatanas ta duhkhena yds tanayaviklavajena tulyah) (CK 5.14cd). He solemnly prepares
to commit suicide on his son's funeral pyre—a plan thwarted only by the even more depress
ing realization that, as a slave, he lacks the liberty even to take his own life.
Throughout this scene Hariscandra no longer serves as a model spectator, but is instead
the experiencing subject. He does not therefore feel the karuna rasa, which is, after all,
a literary phenomenon. Instead, Hariscandra succumbs to an outpouring of genuine emo
tion, the bhava of soka (grief). The result is what we might call a "split-image" between
Hariscandra's rasa experience (of blbhatsa, raudra, and bhayanaka) as a model spectator in

15. Sullivan has argued that scenes of death were not as forbidden on the Sanskrit stage as Indologists com
monly believe. In the Candakaus'ika Saivya finds Rohitasva's lifeless body, presumably offstage, and brings it onto
the stage (though these actions are not stated in the stage directions). Later, Lord Dharma revives the boy, who
slowly opens his eyes and speaks to his parents. The scene is therefore quite reminiscent of Jimutavahana's revival
in Harsa's Nagananda (cf. Sullivan 2007: 430; Das Gupta in her edition of CK, pp. lxxxii, lxxxxv).

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemlsvara 371

Act IV and his sthayibhava (of soka) as the experiencing subject in Act V. Ksemisvara thus
exposes an ambivalence between curiosity and anxiety in how we experience unpleasurable
rasas—though we, as spectators, ought to delight at a poet's skillful descriptions of awful
things, there lurks an ever-present danger that these awful things might be real, and that they
might actually happen to us. This is why Ksemisvara is so careful to eliminate any trace of
Hariscandra's own suffering as a model spectator in Act IV.
We might be able to better appreciate Ksemlsvara's position by comparing it with that of
his senior colleague. Rajasekhara seldom indulges in blbhatsa or bhayanaka, but one such
occasion comes at the beginning of Act III of the Balaramayana, through two verses describ
ing the slaying of the demoness Tataka16 Here the speaker is a vulture, who is narrating
Rama's adventures to his pregnant wife while the couple is off hunting for demon meat to
satisfy her cravings. The vulture first describes how the "gaping corners of [Tataka's] mouth
were smeared with blood" (raktabhyaktorusrkka), and how "the rattling sounds of the grind
ing of the blades of her crunching teeth make her terrifying" (dastadamstrankurakarsana
ranatkarabhima) (Balaramayana 3.4). To this his wife simply responds, "Oh my! That
lowlife is scary even to scary creatures! So, then what happened?" (ahaha bhisananam vi
bhisana hadasa I tado tado). The vulture next describes, in even more graphic terms, the
slaying of Tataka: "Her pair of hands was demolished (vidhvastahastayugalam), the strands
of her entrails had spilled (galitantratantram), a pool of blood was spilled (muktaraktatati),
and her liver was shattered (khanditakalakhandam)" (Balaramayana 3.6). The vulture's
wife, however, hardly balks at the image and simply praises Rama for killing her only on the
orders of the sage Visvamitra.
Rajasekhara's brief foray into the blbhatsa rasa thus becomes largely an occasion to
show off his own verbal dexterity and poetic richness, hardly resulting in anything as prob
ing as Ksemisvara's treatment of the cremation grounds. It is not quite a fair comparison,
for a female vulture cannot possibly serve as an appropriate model spectator, and one cannot
compare the lighthearted tone of talking vultures out on a raksasa-hunt to the gravity of the
death of an Iksvaku king's only son. Still, this scene is typical for Rajas'ekhara, and one gets
the feeling that Ksemisvara was venturing into an area of aesthetic experience left largely
unexplored by his more renowned colleague.
It may be argued that another kind of contrast is drawn in the Candakausika, between the
experience of blbhatsa, raudra, and bhayanaka rasas versus that of karuna. Horror provokes
disgust, fury provokes anger, and terror provokes fear; but all of these raw emotions may be
safely distanced if the spectator adopts an attitude of kutiihala. Misery, however, is unique
among the rasas in that it stimulates not only grief but sympathy (see Cuneo forthcoming).
Hariscandra is, for example, initially sympathetic to Saivya's plight before realizing she is
actually his own wife, at which point it stops being an aesthetic experience for him. After all,
if Ksemlsvara were influenced by Bhavabhuti it would not be surprising for him to take spe
cial interest in the subtleties of karuna, and to treat it differently from the other rasas (Shul
man 2001: 74—see especially Uttararamacarita 3.47). This, however, does not seem to have
been the case; for, as we shall see, our playwright uses his second play, the Naisadhananda,
to produce an even more profound "split-image" between curiosity and anxiety in the experi
ence of the karuna rasa.

16. Jalhana was sufficiently impressed with how these verses evoke bhayanaka and bibhatsa that he included
them in his Suktimuktavall (93.8, 94.8).

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372 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)


Just as in the Candakausika, Ksemlsvara introduces a number of unique

his adaptation of the Nala-DamayantI story. In Act I we join the action alr
as Nala and his vidusaka (again a Ksemlsvara innovation) are speeding towar
self-choice marriage (svayamvara). Nala is approached by Indra's attend
recruited to speak to Damayanti on the gods' behalf. When Nala deliver
Act II, we witness the simultaneous romantic afflictions of both hero and heroine—Nala
confesses his love for Damayanti to the vidusaka, while they eavesdrop on Damayanti con
fessing hers to her girlfriend.17 In Act III the events of the marriage are reported in ornate
but rapid Prakrit prose by the vidusaka to Damayanti's mother—first the parade of kings,
then Damayanti's selection of Nala, and finally a bloody conflict between Nala and the other
spurned kings. Nala's downfall begins in Act IV as he gambles away his kingdom under
the influence of Kali, and he and his wife are forced into exile with only the clothes on
their backs. In Act V Nala loses even these in a vain effort to catch a pair of golden geese.
Eventually, he abandons his sleeping wife in the midst of a smoky forest fire, whereupon
he is bitten by the serpent king Karkotaka. The snake's poison eliminates Kali from Nala's
body, but leaves him disfigured as a result. We are next taken to Ayodhya in Act VI, where
the ugly and dwarfish Nala, now known as Bahuka, is employed as king Rtuparna's driver.
The king invites him to watch a play about Damayanti's tribulations in the forest—a piece,
as it turns out, that the princess has herself composed in order to locate her missing hus
band. The moving performance convinces King Rtuparna, with his driver in tow, to rush to
Damayanti's second marriage contest at the beginning of Act VII. Nala then reveals his true
identity, retakes his kingdom by defeating his brother in dice, and is successfully reunited
with wife and family.
The most striking innovation in the Naisadhananda is the play-within-the-play (garbhanka)
of Act VI that allows our playwright to tie up the bifurcated story arc as well as make two
significant meta-theatrical observations. First, as is typical of garbhahkas, it highlights the
cultural power of literary expression to reveal the true emotional self that is otherwise hidden
in the shifting complexities of everyday life. Second, we are told that this revelation comes
not merely from the aesthetic content of a poetic text, but due to skillful performance. More
precisely, Ksemlsvara asserts that a spectator experiences rasa most directly when the acting
is transparent (sphuta), facilitating its transference from text to spectator. As we will see,
these two points serve again to bifurcate the cognitive and emotive experience of the karuna

For obvious reasons, the play-within-the-play is a device that reflect

cultural power of Sanskrit theater (see Jaspart-Pansu 1998; Tieken 2000
Shulman has noted (1997: 83), the garbhahka in Sanskrit drama often p
pected self-coincidence, in which the normative disjunctions and unalign
comprise awareness are superseded by a continuous, expressive, expansi
results in situation in which "the king is expanding into himself—a subjec
constricting borders of his earlier, heavily determined roles." In other w
allows the protagonist of a Sanskrit drama to perceive who he really is, a
is otherwise obscured by the layers of social and political obligations o
the protagonist, as we have seen, also may serve as the model spectator

17. An identical amorous surveillance takes place between Harifcandra and his wife
both were surely inspired by Kalidasa's Abhijnanasakuntala (Warder and Kunjunni Raj
1990: 179).

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 373

become conscious, self-reflexive explorations of how actual audiences might learn to see
themselves better through the power of theater.
In the Naisadhananda's garbhaiika, this self-realization occurs through three stages:
(1) the hidden Nala; (2) the emergence of the "real" Nala as he watches the play; and
(3) Nala's self-recognition, as well as his recognition by the actress in the play. At first,
Nala is literally unrecognizable in the Ayodhya court, his true identity concealed beneath a
layer of disfigured skin. Still, nearly everyone senses that there is something odd about this
hunchback driver and that something more brilliant lurks underneath his grotesque exterior.
Seeing Bahuka enter into the drama-house, for example, King Rtuparna remarks (NA 6.7):

ratnam jaradvastranibaddham etad

avaskaracchannam idam nidhdnam I
unmattavaktrac ca sa eva vedah

sa eva kosantaritah krpanah 11

This is a jewel wrapped in old clothes,

A treasure buried in excrement;
This is the Veda itself, coming from the mouth of a madman;
This is a sword concealed in its sheath.

Growing more and more emotional during the course of the performance, the hidden Nala
uncontrollably bursts out from his Bahuka mask. Ksemls'vara gives this typical garbhaiika
theme a novel twist—for not only does Nala begin to notice his latent, emotional self through
his genuine reactions to the play, but so does the actress playing DamayantI, who has been
charged with discovering the hidden Nala. In an aside the garbhanka's director explains to
us what the actual DamayantI had ordered the troupe to do: "You should carefully go check
him out, approaching him under the pretense of a new play that has a plot based on what has
happened to me" (tena hi madvrttantagrathitavastuna navanatakena samvidhanopasthayina
nipunam avadharaniyam tvaya) (NA ad 6.10). Through an inversion of the theatrical gaze,
the ordinarily objectified actress is now placed in a subject position, covertly assessing the
authenticity of the spectator.
Ksemlsvara's focus on the actress continues throughout the garbhahka. Seeing Damayanti
suffer, Nala breaks down again and again and keeps forgetting that he is watching a play. At
one point, he declares that he can no longer tell the difference between the actress and the

tad evedam devya vapur upanatam mlanamadhuram

rajobhih saiveyam dhruvam alakamala malinita I
idam nidracchedad arunanayanam tac ca vadanam
natl sarvakarair dhruvam alikhita saiva sumukhl 11

There is my lady's body, bowed and its sweetness faded.

That is definitely her hair garland, stained with dirt.
This is her face, its eyes reddened from interrupted sleep,
And with all her features, this actress who wears no makeup, this lovely girl—it's really her.

Of course, it is not really her, but an actress who will eventually report her findings to the
real Damayanti in the next act. But the power of theater is such that as Nala sees Damayanti
suffer more and more on stage, it begins to trigger emotions inside of him that will force
him to emerge further and further out of his shell, and to forget that, after all, it's just a play.
But Nala is not the only one watching the drama. Eventually, the Queen MadhumatI also
cannot contain her sorrow and is moved to tears. The King, also in tears, asks his driver what

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374 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

is making them cry. It's the acting, explains Nala. "My lord, this is, in fact, a feature of the
transparent acting of someone performing poetry that is filled with rasa" (deva rasavatah
khalu kavyasya prayoktuh sphutabhinayatayah khalv ay am gunah) (NA ad 6.19). He explains
further (NA 6.20):

karunakarunodbhrantodbhrantah patanti muhur drsorn

jadam iva muhuh sunyakaram vapuh parivepate I
bhayakarunayoh samkirnatma tathabhinayah sphuto
vayam api tatha yatsamkrantya ksanad iva tanmayah 11

Her glances are falling, in one moment, so sad, so sad, and in the next, so scared, so scared,
And her body trembles, as if it's heavy at one moment, and hollow at the next.
This is transparent acting, containing a mixture of terror and misery,
And so, by its transference, we, too, have become instantly filled with it.

This important verse offers a key to understanding our dramatist's view of the growing
poetic interest in rasa. The aesthetic experience, Ksemisvara suggests, involves two phenom
ena: first, the poet's creation of a rasa-filled (rasavat) text, and then its delivery to the specta
tor through a "transparent" performance. The former is clearly indebted to Dandin, Bhamaha,
and other pre-dhvani poeticians, who classified rasavat as a poetic figure (McCrea 2008:
42-52). The latter belongs to the world of dramaturgy, which had emphasized the active role
of performance in producing rasa. He calls this acting "sphuta," a term not prominently found
in dramaturgical literature, but which here seems to indicate a kind of acting that facilitates
a direct and immediate experience of rasa.19 Damayantl's speech by itself does not make
the audience cry; this only happens because the facial expressions and gestures of the actress
perfectly embody Damayantl's feelings. This accords with Bharata's seminal statements on
how acting enables bhavas to be processed into rasas: "Just as a meal is prepared using
many different kinds of ingredients, so too do bhavas, when accompanied by acting, pro
duce rasas" (nanadravyair bahuvidhair vyahjanam bhavyate yatha I evam bhava bhavayanti
rasdn abhinayaih saha) (Natyasastra 6.35). In this regard it is important to mention a key
difference between Ksemlsvara's two plays: while in the Candakausika the unpleasurable
rasas were produced exclusively through the recitation of poetry, here the karuna rasa is pro
duced entirely through acting—there are no verses actually recited within the garbhahka. By
juxtaposing a dramaturgical model of rasa production with a poetic one (rasavat as a poetic
guna), Ksemls'vara explores one of the more unclear points of Anandavardhana's "dhvani
revolution"—what precisely is the locus of rasa?20 Later dhvani-based theorists would come
to focus almost exclusively on the role of the writerly connoisseur in this process, but for
Ksemisvara the answer seems centrally to involve the actor; Ksemlsvara's position might
thus more appropriately be deemed as "performerly." We will revisit this point when we
compare his views with those of Rajas'ekhara—but first, let's see how the garbhahka ends.

18. Here, I am following the variant reading "drso" (from drsah) as given by Warder and Kunjunni Raja (in
their edition (157 n. 8).
19. Abhinavagupta perhaps approaches this idea when discussing the obstacles to rasa experience, the fifth
of which is sphutatvabhava or "the lack of transparency." This, he suggests, is resolved through "acting that
is furnished with conventions, styles, and modes" (abhinaya lokadharmivrttipravrttyupaskrtah). Acting, he
explains, is especially suited for making literature cognizable because it is "almost like directly observed activ
ity" (pratyaksavyaparakalpam) (Abhinavabharati commentary on Bharata's Natyasastra, ad 6.31 [p. 275]; see also
Cuneo 2009, vol. 2: 82).
20. For further discussions on the "locus" (as'raya) of rasa, see Kulkarni 1998: 81-87; Tubb 1991: 188-93.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemis'vara 375

As DamayantI continues to suffer onstage, Nala struggles to maintain his disguise. When
she falls into a snake hole, he suddenly gets up and cries, "Oh damn! What awful madness!"
(ha dhik kastam pramadah) (NA ad 6.21). This gives King Rtuparna a perfect opportunity to
state the classic garbhanka line, "Don't get so worked up, sir! This is only a reenactment"
(drya alam sambhramena I vrttanukaranam etat). Nala regains his composure, but not for
long. A hunter comes to DamayantI's rescue and kills the snake—but then he tries to rape
her. Witnessing this abuse, Nala again loses control, gets up from his seat, and yells, "Damn
ruffian!" (dhik jalma) (NA ad 6.23). Again Rtuparna must reassure him, "It's just a play, sir!"
(arya natyam idam), and again Nala must hide his feelings.
Things are now only going to get more serious on stage. With no hope left, Damayanti
decides to commit suicide. As she starts to wrap the vine around her neck, Nala's emo
tions finally explode and he rushes out of his seat—"Lady of Vidarbha, no, no, please,
you shouldn't act on impulse! Is it right for you to give up that place in heaven meant for
devoted wives and seek instead the pitch darkness so easily gained through suicide?" (devi
vaidarbhi na khalu na khalu sahasam anustheyam I devi api yujyate tava pativratalokan
apahaya atmavadhasulabham andham tamo 'nusartum) (NA ad 6.24). The actress is now
fully convinced. She says to herself, "There's no need to doubt it. That's him. With luck,
I've succeeded" (kidam samdehena I so jjeva eso I dittia kadatthamhi). Rtuparna, too, grows
suspicious about his driver's identity (NA 6.25):

yathaivanukarotiyam vaidarbhyah karunam dasam I

tathaivanena vaiklavyam nalasyanuvidhiyate II

In the same way that she acts out the tragic lot of the Lady of Vidarbha,
So, too, does his suffering match that of Nala.

Though the central point of the garbhahka is Nala's self-discovery, he is not actually the
model spectator in this scene. Instead it is Rtuparna who takes on this role. As we have seen,
both King and Queen are initially moved to tears by the play, but by its conclusion Rtuparna
looks on "with fascination" (sakautukam) and declares, "Sir, this story is making my curios
ity grow" (drya vardhayati nah kutuhalam ayam vrttantah) (NA ad 6.29). In order to satisfy
this kutuhala, he suggests to Bahuka they go to Damayanti's second svayamvara. Rtuparna
thus reacts in exactly the same manner as Hariscandra in the Candakausika—an initial shock
at the unpleasant imagery that he sees, followed by fascination and curiosity: kautuka and
kutuhala. The difference is only one of context—while Hariscandra had witnessed the grisly
activities of strange, shadowy figures in the cemetery, Rtuparna is here watching a bona fide
piece of high literary art. Nala, however, is deeply affected by what he has witnessed and
has not, in fact, had a rasa experience. And so he takes quite a different stance on this oppor
tunity to visit Damayanti, telling us in an aside that "the doctor has prescribed exactly what
this sick man craves" (yad evaturasyabhilasitam tad evopanyastam bhisaja) (NA ad 6.29).
This is a direct parallel to Hariscandra's s'oka-filled reactions to seeing his suffering wife and
dead son. Again there emerges a split-image: Rtuparna is the model spectator, taking in the
unpleasurable karuna rasa with a detached curiosity, while Nala suffers a real feeling—a
sthayibhava—of grief. Even though the king and his driver watch exactly the same play, they
understand it in two completely different ways, exemplifying the two distinct modes in which
a spectator might consume Sanskrit theater.
We may again better appreciate Ksemisvara's split-image by comparing his garbhanka
to one written by Rajasekhara, in Act III of the Balaramayana, when a travelling troupe
performs a small play at Ravana's court in Lanka. The title of Rajas'ekhara's garbhanka
is Sitasvayamvara ("Slta's Wedding Contest"), and it details how a procession of kings

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376 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

attempts, one by one, to string Siva's bow and win Sita's hand. While an actor playing Jana
ka's chamberlain describes the regionalized qualities of each king, the spectator, Ravana,
reacts to the sequence of events.21 As in most garbhankas, Rajasekhara uses Ravana to
lampoon unsophisticated literary connoisseurs. Ravana is jealously in love with Sita, and his
repeated outbursts towards each king demonstrate how a spectator's private feelings might
possibly intermingle with the literary experience, causing him—to our amusement—to for
get that the play is just a play.22 At the same time, when in the end Rama is chosen as Sita's
groom, Ravana angrily dismisses the entire production as fiction, as merely a "poets' wish
giving cow" (kavinam kamadhenu) (Balaramayana ad 3.77). Once more this pokes fun at
Ravana, since the play, as everyone knows, has actually told the truth.
Like Ksemlsvara, Rajasekhara touches upon the revelatory power of poetry to expose the
inner, emotional reality of the connoisseur. There is, however, an important difference. As
we have seen, Ksemlsvara suggests that rasa is transferred from text to audience through
good acting; Rajasekhara, on the other hand, emphasizes only the responsibility of the skilled
poet to endow a literary work with rasa. A comment made by the garbhahka's director in its
prologue is especially revealing: (Balaramayana 3.14):
vag vaidarbhlm madhurimagunam syandate srotra.leh.yam
vastunyaso harati hrdayam suktimudranivedyah I
sadyah sute rasam anupamapraudhijanma prasadah
sandarbhasrir iti krtadhiyam dhama glrdevatayah 11

The vidarbha style of speech, with its sweet quality, flows like syrup to the ear;
The unfolding of the plot, as shown through choice words and gestures, steals away the heart;
Clarity, which is born from incomparable boldness, immediately produces rasa—
And this is why, for educated gentlemen, the beauty of poetic composition is where the
Goddess of Speech makes her home.

For Rajasekhara the qualities (guna) of poetic expression are what deliver style (riti),
content (vastu), and aesthetic experience {rasa), and it is from the guna known as prasada—
'clarity' or 'grace'—that rasa is born, immediately (sadyah), and without any noticeable
intervention by the actors. Rajasekhara pursues this point further, through a clever parono
masia (s'lesa) in the next verse (Balaramayana 3.15):
suvarnabandhavidyoti kuruta sravanasrayam I
sacchayam ullasadvrttam kavyam muktamayam budhah 11

Wise gentlemen, give poetry a place at your ears!

Made of pearls [made of independent verses],
it glitters with its golden links [it sparkles with words made of nice sounds).23
It is bright and shiny [it has Prakrit glosses],
And it has a circular shape [it has merry rhythms].

The emphasis here is on the crafting of good poetry and its consumption by wise gentle
men (budhah). Like jewelry, poetry is decorative—a sophisticated enhancement of every
day life. As Warder puts it (1972-2004, vol. 5: 417), "Rajasekhara, at least, is confident

21. The anachronistic descriptions of the kings are clearly drawn from the poetic geography in Rajas'ekhara's
Kavyamlmamsa (see the edition of Dalai and Shastry, pp. xxvi-xxvii, 281-314; Parashar 2000, appendix 2; Pollock
2006: 200-204).
22. In an unpublished study of this play, McCrea (2003: 13) has analyzed the ramifications of Ravana's "over
personalized involvement" through a theory of "spectation."
23. Here, I read mukta ('pearl') as a pun on muktaka ('independent verse').

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 377

that art must be an excursion for pleasure and that life should imitate this ideal." Further
more, like jewelry and other plastic arts, the quality of the poetic text is entirely dependent
upon the craftsmanship of its manufacturer, the poet (cf. Pollock 2001: 225 n. 26, citing
Kavyamlmamsa, pp. 45-46). The spectator is simply a passive consumer of the readerly text,
while the actor's role goes entirely unmentioned.
This comparison with Rajasekhara's garbhanka sheds some light on what Ksemlsvara
may have been trying to accomplish through these "writerly" moments in his plays. While
he appears largely to have accepted Rajasekhara's pre.-dhvani principles of textual produc
tion, in which rasavat is a poetic guna, he was perhaps also aware of Anandavardhana's idea
that the connoisseur was responsible for experiencing rasa. Furthermore, we should note that
Ksemlsvara generates the unpleasurable rasas in the Candakausika entirely through poetry,
while in the Naisadhananda he emphasizes how acting mediates this aesthetic experience.
Taken in sequence, these two plays indicate not only how the world of Sanskrit theater was
grappling with the newfound poetic interest in rasa, but also how the new theoretical con
cept of rasa-dhvani, by then only a few decades old, would have raised new questions for
dramatists. What is now the role of the actor in "writerly" rasa production? What is the rela
tionship between a character's sthayibhava and the spectator's rasa? And, most importantly
for Ksemlsvara, what is the pleasure in producing unpleasurable rasas on the Sanskrit stage?


As this study has argued, Ksemlsvara tackles the problem of unple

creating a "split-image" between curiosity (kutuhala) and anxiety in their
importance of kutuhala as an analytic concept for Ksemlsvara is further exp
of the Naisadhananda's play-within-the-play. The acting troupe here disp
mally elaborate opening ceremonies {purvarahga) of the Sanskrit theater
verse. Seeing this, King Rtuparna declares with satisfaction, "Oh very go
away with that whole business of the musical arrangements (pratyahara)
just bruise the interests (kutuhala) of the audience; instead, using a bened
es the directions, the actors have simply summarized the opening cerem
sadhu parisatkutuhalavimardakari pratyaharadiprapancam apahaya dig
prayujyamdnair ayam upas a m h rta p ray a h purvarahgah kusllavaih) (NA
kutuhala is, for Ksemls'vara, a central measure of the success of theater, an
examination so that we might arrive at some larger conclusions about the
of this playwright's work.
The words kutuhala and kautuka are largely synonymous in Sanskrit, me
'interest', or 'fascination' (see Amarasimha's Amarakosa 1.7.470). In the th
were commonly used to indicate, as one might expect, a character's fasci
thing unusual. In Kalidasa's Abhijnanasakuntala, for example, it is kutuha
the king Dusyanta to ask for a more complete account of how Sakuntala
birth by her true father Visvamitra (Sakuntala ad 1.21). In Bhavabhut

24. Described by Bharata as "an arrangement of the musical instruments" (kutapasya tu vin
is the first of an elaborate series of preliminary rituals, the purvarahga, that were conducted
play itself (Natyasastra 5.17ab, cf. Visvanatha's Sahityadarpana 5.23). Ksemisvara is perhap
warning against overdoing the preliminaries, as "there might be fatigue among the perform
spectators—and no clarity regarding rasas or bhavas arises among those who are tired" (khed
preksakanam tathaiva ca I khinnanam rasabhavesu spastata nopajayate) (Natyasastra 5.159

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378 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

the heroine MalatI is described as being "fascinated" (kutuhalinl) by Madhava's beautiful

garland (Malatlmadhava ad 1.32). And in Harsa's Ratnavali, when the Vidusaka notices a
picture of the king and Ratnavali (drawn by Ratnavali and her friend) and cries out, "Hey,
friend, luckily you've succeeded!" (bho vayasya distya vardhase), the king asks him, with
curiosity (sakautukam), "What is it, my friend?" (vayasya kim etat) (Ratnavali ad 1.8). As
these examples suggest, kutuhala and kautuka do not accompany any fully developed aes
thetic experience, and represent a cognitive rather than emotional reaction.
The technical usage of kutuhala as a cognitive response also finds support in the
Natyasastra. In discussing the ten bodily (sarin) indicators of a performance's success {sid
dhi), Bharata states that "it is by the bristling of the hairs of the body that the inner experience
of kutiihala towards engrossing speech is demonstrated by a gentleman" (saviksepesu vakyesu
praspanditatanuruhaih I kutiihalantaravedyam bahumanena sadhyate)" (Natyasastra 27.12).
Sanskrit dramaturgy thus did recognize kutuhala as an important ingredient in the enjoyment
of theater. But while other bodily and verbal reactions were designated as proof of rasa expe
rience—the exclamation alio, for example, was associated with srhgara, adbhuta, and vira
(Natyasastra 27.10)—kutuhala was not tied to any specific rasa, but instead to speech that
grabs one's attention (saviksepa vakya). This is precisely the sense in which Ksemlsvara uses
the term during Rtuparna's remarks about overlong piirvarangas. Why, then, does he also
use it to describe how his model spectators react to the unpleasurable rasas?
As noted earlier, the unpleasurable rasas became a theoretical problem only after rasa
was foregrounded as the ultimate goal of literary practice. As long as rasa was just one ele
ment within a more comprehensive literary experience, alongside other figurative, linguistic,
and theatrical qualities, its pleasurability did not pose any particular problem—the overall
effect of a poem or play could continue to be delightful even when a specific rasa was not. If,
on the other hand, the very object of creating poetry and drama was to evoke an aesthetized
emotion in the spectator, then it would be dangerous if this evocation were predominant
ly unpleasant. Furthermore, if, as Pollock suggests, a sea change in Sanskrit literary criti
cism took place between 850-1050, when "the notion of rasa was radically displaced from
text to reader" (Pollock 2001: 198), then the success or failure of a literary work was now
highly dependent on how a reader or spectator might respond to these unpleasurable rasas.
Ksemls'vara's grappling with the "split-image" of curiosity and anxiety, I suggest, represents
a crucial moment within this sea change.
In the end Ksemlsvara's work raises questions about the unpleasurable rasas rather than
offering a comprehensive solution about how they should be appreciated. We are left with
a rather schizoid understanding of kutuhala as an idealized response to the unpleasurable
rasas, but with the threat of genuine anxieties lurking underneath. Ksemlsvara provides us
with no real answers about how this bifurcation of cognitive and emotive response might be
reconciled, how this "split-image" might be brought into a singular focus. This is no fault of
our playwright; after all, he was not—so far as we know—a theorist. Moreover, he was writ
ing in the shadow of Rajas'ekhara, and only a few years after the advent of the rasa-dhvani
concept. A more complete set of answers to this problem would await the work of later, post
dhvani theorists, who, when dealing with the unpleasurable rasas, did not speak of kutuhala
but rather of camatkara ('delightful surprise') as the feeling that theater or poetry ultimately
should produce within the spectator. Determining how camatkara is linked to Ksemls'vara's
notion of kutuhala would require a detailed historical analysis that unfortunately lies beyond
the scope of the present study; instead, let us simply take a cursory look at how these later
critics used camatkara to answer the same aesthetic questions raised by Ksemlsvara's plays.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 379

The flexibility of camatkara as a theoretical concept made it quite useful for post-dhvani
aestheticians. It is probable that the term was originally an onomatopoeic expression of gas
tronomic delight (Raghavan 1973: 294) that later came to be used as an indication of literary
success, "the dependable signal that performance works" (Shulman 2005: 60; Sriramamurti
1969: xxxiv).25 It thus encompassed both a feeling of immediate delight and an expression
of that feeling. Camatkara was a foundational part of Kuntaka's (tenth-eleventh century)
theory of poetics: "alamkara is something extraordinary placed in poetry for producing a
multi-colored charm (vaicitrya), which in turn gives rise to an otherworldly delight" (lok
ottaracamatkarakarivaicitryasiddhaye I kavyasyayam alahkarah ko 'py apurvo vidhlyate)
('Vakroktijlvita 1.2). These mystical connotations made camatkara particularly valuable with
in the Pratyabhijna school of Kashmir Saivism, in which, as Dupuche suggests, it was "used
in a technical sense probably for the first time by Utpaladeva, Abhinava's paramaguru"
(Dupuche 2001: 5). For Abhinavagupta camatkara provided a convenient solution for the
unpleasurable rasa problem, since the spectator was now expected to feel a detached, intel
lectual delight, regardless of the emotional value of the text. Rasa for Abhinavagupta did not
constitute a true emotional event, but involved a generalized affective state (sadharanibhava)
occurring in the spectator's mind and extracted from a remembered personal experience
of emotion (see Cuneo forthcoming). The resulting immersion in pleasure (bhogaves'a) he
declared to be camatkara—a feeling that transcended the pleasurability or unpleasurability
of the specific rasa at hand.26 And so, even if a play should delve into the bibhatsa or karuna
rasas, the resulting feeling in the reader or spectator—camatkara—would still be delightful
(Kulkarni 1998: 80).27
In some ways, however, Abhinavagupta's clever approach to the unpleasurable rasa
problem does not fully address Ksemlsvara's "split-image," since it simply disallows anxi
ety as a valid response to literary expression. Since any personal emotional experience is
to be carefully bracketed off by the process of generalization (sadharanikarana), there can
be no question of a sahrdaya's anxieties bursting out during the enjoyment of literature, as
they do for Nala or Hariscandra.28 For a more "realist" solution we must turn instead to the
Natyadarpana of the twelfth-century scholars Ramacandra and Gunacandra. These students
of the Jaina polymath Hemacandra make the bold assertion that there are, in fact, two kinds
of rasa: "those made of happiness and those made of sorrow" (sukhaduhkhatmako rasah)

25. Mayrhofer (1956: 374) posits that camat- "might have been an exclamation of surprise" (dtirfte ein Ausruf
des Erstaunens gewesen sein) and cites Kuiper's suggestion that it may have been a Munda loanword (Kuiper 1948:
21). Turner (1964: 253, no. 4676) notes its relationship to the Prakrit camakka, the source for modern vernacular
terms meaning 'glitter, startle, dazzle', etc. Alternatively, Shulman (forthcoming) links camatkara to the click of
appreciation found in classical music performance.
26. To be precise, Abhinavagupta states that "by being no different from satisfaction, it [camatkara] is also
described as an uninterrupted immersion in pleasure" (sa catrptivyatirekenavicchinno bhogavesa ity ucyate)
(Abhinavabharati commentary to Natyasastra at 6.31 [p. 273]; see also Masson and Patwardhan 1969: 46; Gnoli
1968: 14, 59, who reads sa ca trptivyatirekenacchinno . . .).
27. Ksemendra (eleventh century), in the Kavikanthabharana, would later classify this camatkara into ten dis
tinct types, based upon its particular effect upon the reader—see Sharma 2000: 85-87, 119-20, 149-50; Raghavan
1973: 294-95.

28. Abhinavagupta describes "being at the mercy of one's own happiness and so on" (nijasukhadivivas'ibhuta) as
a hindrance for the rasa experience. It may be overcome by the charm (uparanjana) produced "by things like instru
mental and vocal music, fancy halls, and verbally adept courtesans" (atodyaganavicitramandapapadavidagdhagan
kadibhih) that "sustain everyone's pleasurability through the generalizing power [of theater]" (sadharanyamahimna
sakalabhogyatvasahisnubhih) (Abhinavabharati commentary to Natyasastra ad 6.31 [p. 275]; see also Gnoli 1968:
16, 67).

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380 Journal of the American Oriental Society 130.3 (2010)

(Natyadarpana 3.7d). In the lived world of theater, audiences clearly can and do become
disturbed by certain rasas. Kulkarni further clarifies their position: "To say that all rasas
are pleasurable is against experience. Karuna, raudra, bibhatsa and bhayanaka—these four
rasas cause indescribable pain to the sahrdayas. They simply shudder when they witness
plays depicting these rasas" (1995: 283; see commentary to Natyadarpana 3.7). To explain
how unpleasurable rasas nonetheless contribute to an overall positive effect, they propose an
analogy to a bitter drink: "In the same way that the sweetness of a beverage is better enjoyed
by the presence of a sharp (tlksna) taste, so too are joys better appreciated by the pres
ence of sorrows" (panakamadhuryam iva ca tiksnasvadena duhkhasvadena sutaram sukhani
svadante) (commentary to Natyadarpana 3.7). After one swallows this wicked brew and
after the bad taste goes away, the feeling that emerges is camatkara: "Camatkara appears
when the rasa experience ends, through the ability and skill of the poet and the actors in
performing the story as it is supposed to be" (yat punar ebhir api camatkaro drsyate sa
rasasvadavirame sati yathavasthitavastupradarsakena kavinatasaktikausalena) (commen
tary to Natyadarpana 3.7).29
Ramacandra and Gunacandra deal with Ksemisvara's bifurcation of curiosity and anxiety
in two ways. First, camatkara emerges only after the painful rasas subside; anxiety is there
fore an essential aspect of the theatrical experience. Second, their emphasis on the role of
poets and actors involves a return to the older, readerly understanding of rasa production, in
which the "ability and skill of the poet and actors" (kavinatasaktikausala) are foreground
ed. Writing two centuries after Ksemisvara, Ramacandra and Gunacandra thus arrive at a
median analytical position quite similar to that of our playwright: unpleasurable rasas are
produced by poets and actors in performance, and they do, in fact, provoke real, painful emo
tions in the writerly spectator. The concept of camatkara, however, allowed them to resolve
what Ksemisvara leaves as a split-image. No longer does the delightful, cognitive reaction
(.kutuhala) need to be differentiated from the painful, emotional one; these may instead be
incorporated linearly into a single experience: first anxiety and then delight. Later theorists
would establish their own, distinct views on camatkara and the problem of unpleasurable
rasas; any further clarification of their opinions must also await a more comprehensive study.
At the very least, this brief inquiry suggests how deeply the unpleasurable rasa problem
engaged both theorists and composers of Sanskrit literature at the end of the first millennium.
Ksemisvara ends both plays with an identical pair of verses that reveal his profession
al interests: to create literature appreciated by the cogniscenti and to give his audience a
thrill (harsa). "May those of good taste welcome even a single kernel of quality (guna) that
we poets offer in our work" (kavibhir upahita nijaprabandhe gunakanikapy anugrhyatam
gunajhaih) (CK 5.30cd; NA 7.2led). At the same time, in praising his patron, "who asked
for the production of this play," he hopes that "he now has goosebumps from its thrills"
(yenadis'ya prayogam ghanapulakabhrta natakasyasya harsat) {CK 5.31a; NA 7.22a). When
it came to unpleasurable rasas, as we have seen, this harsa was bifurcated into a split-image
of cognitive curiosity and emotional anxiety. In this way Ksemisvara's plays engage with
the new idea of rasa-dhvani, along with its writerly shift from poet to spectator as the agent
of the aesthetic experience. It may indeed be true, as Gerow notes, that "poetics, in India as
anywhere else, follows poetry" (Gerow 1971: 80), but at least in the case of Arya Ksemls'vara
we find a striking example of how theoretical innovations may have contoured the issues and
concerns of Sanskrit literary practice at the end of the first millennium.

29. See Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 38; Kulkarni 1995: 283; Nagendra 1970b: 132.

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Sathaye: Rasas in the Sanskrit Dramas of Arya Ksemisvara 381


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